Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas

Best of the West

The west coast of North America, known as the Pacific Coast, is an area of outstanding beauty and diversity. Stretching from Alaska in the north to Panama in the South, this coastal region stretches for over 7,000 miles. In this travel route, we’ll focus on the stretch from Vancouver in Canada to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Passing through British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, California, and Baja California, this is a route to savor. This route involves mountains, beaches, forests, lakes, cities, and much more. While it’s possible to complete the route with public transport, having your own transport will give you much greater flexibility and allow you to get off the beaten track.   

British Columbia, Canada


Vancouver is the start of the route, and it’s well-connected for both international and domestic arrivals. As a starting point for any trip, Vancouver scores pretty highly. The city has excellent accommodation options to suit different budgets, getting around is easy, and the city is very laid back. Highlights include Stanley Park, Granville Island, and Gastown. Aside from the attractions in Vancouver, there are several excellent day trips in the vicinity, including Whistler, Bowen Island, and Horseshoe Bay. There’s also the option for a day or overnight stay in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and offers some fascinating history and historical buildings. It’s also a great spot to go Orca Whale watching. You can find more information about getting there in our Vancouver Island blog post.

Aerial view of downtown Vancouver
The downtown Vancouver skyline and harbour with the mountains in the distance

Once you’re ready to leave Vancouver and the surrounding area, it’s a short 24-mile drive to the US border. Crossing at the Peace Arch Border Crossing is usually an efficient and seamless process, although there can be queues at peak times. Allow a couple of hours for all the formalities to be completed, longer at peak times. Once through, you’ll start the USA leg of your trip, heading south on the I-5.

Washington State, USA

Heading south, the first major city you’ll come across is Bellingham. Renowned as a laid-back, liberal city, this is an excellent place to stop for lunch or to stretch your legs. South of Bellingham, you’ll be coming off the I-5 at Burlington and heading west to Fidalgo Island. In turn, you’ll resume your journey south by crossing the spectacular Deception Pass Bridge onto Whidbey Island. Our blog post on traveling to Whidbey Island provides further details.

Deception Pass Bridge on Whidbey Island
The spectacular bridge at Deception Pass, connecting Whidbey with the mainland

Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is somewhat of a hidden gem. Shaped like a sea horse and measuring 37 miles in length, this largely rural island is just a short ferry ride from the suburbs of Seattle. The contrast between Seattle and Whidbey is stark. The island primarily consists of small towns and is heavily forested, offering a very different setting to municipal Seattle, which lies in wait. Oak Harbour in the north is the pick of the towns if you plan to stop on the island. Otherwise, it’s a pleasant drive down to Clinton for the ferry to Mukotil on the mainland. Mukotil is an excellent spot for the local favorite, clam chowder. From Mukotil, it’s an hour on average into downtown Seattle.


Seattle is one of the great lifestyle cities of the US. Home to a vibrant music scene, a great cafe culture, and a focus on lifestyle, Seattle is a good place to stop for a couple of days. It’s also home to some giants of U.S. industry: Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks. There’s an association between these giants and the best attractions in Seattle. The Museum of Flight showcases the most extensive air and space collection in the US. The first-ever Starbucks is located at Pike Place, close to Pike Place Market, Seattle’s most popular attraction. Principally, a farmers market, the sight of flying fish, and much more have made this a favorite spot. Another long-time favorite is a trip up the iconic Space Needle, which offers fantastic views of the city and the surrounding mountains.

South of Seattle

Heading out of Seattle, there are a few different routes you can take. We’ll be focusing on the route through Tacoma to Olympia National Park and Port Townsend. However, an exciting and unique route is to head east on the I-90 to the mountain town of Leavenworth, styled as a Bavarian hillside town. Featuring Bavarian restaurants, architecture, and entertainment, it’s a little slice of Europe in Washington State.

Back on track, Tacoma is a 40-minute drive on the I-5 south of Seattle. If you’ve not stopped in Seattle, Tacoma is a great alternative. It offers an array of restaurants, bars, and a vibrant cultural scene. While many characterize the city as a mini Seattle or Portland, this does a disservice to Tacoma’s unique character.

Olympic National Park

From Tacoma, the next stop is Olympic National Park, one of the best and most popular of the U.S. national parks. You can head west from Tacoma on Route 16 for the scenic route or follow the I-5 to Olympia and beyond for the quicker route. Olympic National Park is home to the Olympic Mountains, forests, lakes, and spectacular waterfalls, this is an adventurer’s paradise. There are excellent hiking routes throughout the park, with many accessible year-round. For those interested in climbing, Mount Olympus, at 7,980 feet, is the tallest of the mountains and is covered in glaciers, making it both an excellent and challenging climb.

Clear Skies Over Mountains in Olympic National Park, Washington
A spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains in Olympic National Park

Port Townsend

After some time in the wilderness, Port Townsend is an excellent spot for some rest and relaxation. Situated northeast of Olympic National Park, this Victorian-era town retains much of its original splendor. The combination of fine architecture, great restaurants, and a spectacular setting close to the Olympic Mountains makes this a popular spot year-round.

The seafront of Port Townsend
The historic seafront of the Victorian era town of Port Townsend in Washington State

Oregon, USA

On leaving Port Townsend, you’ll head south and across the state border into Oregon. The first stop in Oregon is the state capital, Portland, a journey of 200 miles taking 3 to 4 hours.


It’s very easy to like Portland and to while away a few days. The city is renowned for its relaxed pace of life and is set in a spectacular setting between forests and volcanoes. The city is also aesthetically very appealing, with lots of parks and open space, which is consistent with its resident’s love of the outdoors. Much of the downtown city is based around the waterfront on the Willamette River, which comes alive in the summertime.

East of Portland is Columbia River Gorge, which is an excellent spot for a day trip or an extended stay. Designated as a national scenic area, there is excellent walking, cycling, hiking, and climbing to be experienced here. The Gorge extends for some 80 miles and offers spectacular views and vistas, waterfalls, and water sports.

Aerial view of Portland in Oregon
Portland, Oregon - one of the most spectacular and best US cities to live in

Oregon Coastline

From Portland, you’ll head west on Route 26 with Cannon Beach, the end destination. It’s an 80-mile trip taking an hour and a half through some scenic countryside. Cannon Beach has a long sandy beach and is a popular destination for families and couples alike. It’s also a good spot for exploring the local area. Further south, the Devil’s Punchbowl State National Area, just north of Newport, is an excellent stop. Just south of Newport, Cape Perpetua Scenic Area is another good stop before you reach the Oregon Dunes. At the Oregon Dunes, you’ll find close to 50 miles of sand dunes and an abundance of wildlife. After the Oregon Dunes, you’ll be heading back inland to Grants Pass.

The devils punchbowl in Oregon
The unique Devils Punchbowl in Oregon, created by the relentless Pacific Ocean

Grants Pass

From Oregon Dunes to Grants Pass is a comfortable 140-mile drive taking around 3 hours. The last stretch of the journey is on our old favorite, the I-5. Grants Pass is both a hub and a jumping-off point for the local attractions, Wild Rogue Wilderness Area and Oregon Caves. They both attract the adventurous type for excellent rafting, hiking, and caving. Once you’ve had enough white-knuckle excitement, Grants Pass will be your jump-off for the Golden State, California.

California, USA

Stretching for almost 900 miles, California is the best-known of the U.S. States and also the most visited. Its iconic cities, fantastic coastline, and Hollywood appeal make it a destination like no other. Such is the wealth of attractions in California that we’ve only been able to select a few of the very best for this itinerary.

San Francisco

It’s a grueling 390-mile and 6-hour drive from Grants Pass to San Francisco, the Golden City. While the drive is long, boy, is it worth it. Some of the USA’s most iconic landmarks and sights are in or around San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Prison, and Lombard Street. The city is visually spectacular with trams, hills and views around every turn. It is also of course a cultural leader with a strong liberal heritage and a diverse population. This ensures that San Francisco has some of the best restaurants in the US, accompanied by a vibrant arts scene. Whether you stay for a day or a week, there’s no doubt you’ll fall in love with San Francisco before you leave.

two trams passing on a hill in San Francisco
Quintessential San Francisco - trams, hills and spectacular street views

Napa Valley, Lake Tahoe and Yosemite

Somewhat unconventionally for a southbound trip, you’ll be looping northwest out from San Francisco, heading to the Napa Valley. One of the world’s great wine regions, it’s not a visit to California without stopping at a few vineyards. While Napa is the best-known of the wine-growing regions, several others also offer great-quality wine.

From the Napa Valley, you’ll continue northeast on the I-80 for 170 miles to the stunningly beautiful Lake Tahoe. Situated on the border with Nevada, the area is known for its beaches in summer and ski resorts in winter. Accommodation ranges from the highest-end resorts to privately rented rural huts with few to no facilities. However, what they all have in common is access to a pristine alpine lake and wonderful views.

The clear waters and forests of Lake Tahoe
The combination of mountains, forests and crystal clear waters make Lake Tahoe a beautiful setting

After Lake Tahoe, you’ll resume the journey south with a stop at Yosemite National Park next on the agenda. The premier national park in the US is renowned for its towering sequoia trees, granite monoliths, and waterfalls. While the park can be busy around the best-known areas, a short hike can help you to escape the crowds and find the quiet and solitude most associate with Yosemite.

Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and San Diego

From Yosemite, you’ll be heading southwest back to the Pacific coast, with Santa Barbara as the first stop. Southern California is renowned for its year-round climate and spectacular beaches, of which Santa Barbara claims to be home to one of the very best. The broad sandy beach, crashing surf, and hacienda-style homes make this a very desirable location. This appeal hasn’t gone unnoticed, with numerous Hollywood stars residents of this beautiful city.

Hacienda style homes in Santa Monica
Beautiful white washed homes in A-list destination, Santa Monica, California

It’s a 95-mile trip from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. The ‘City of Angels’ is like nowhere else in the USA or possibly anywhere else in the world. Hugely influenced by its role as the national and international center for film and television, much of the city’s highlights are based around this industry. The iconic Hollywood sign, studios, and Hollywood boardwalk are all big attractions and well worth a visit. LA also offers some iconic beaches, including Santa Monica, Malibu, and the vibrant Venice Beach. If you can only visit one, make it Venice Beach for its atmosphere and iconic status. Off the coast of LA is Catalina Island, which is well worth a visit, although you’ll need to leave your car behind.

Venice Beach in California at sunset
One of many magnificent sunsets at Venice Beach in LA

It’s 2 hours and 120 miles on the I-5 to your final stop in the US, San Diego. While on paper, the city shares many of the characteristics of LA, it’s a much easier-to-navigate city and far more laid back. The city offers a great waterfront, many parks, museums, and much more. It’s a great place to stop before crossing the border into Mexico. The city takes much influence from its proximity to Mexico, which gives you a taster of what lies ahead.

Baja California, Mexico

San Diego is just 17 miles from the Mexican border. Once you cross, you’ll enter into Tijuana, a Mexican border city. While it’s not a bad place to stay overnight due to its vibrant nightlife, you’ll want to head south at the earliest opportunity. The first stop of note on the southward journey is Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir, where you could glimpse an almost extinct California Condor, one of the world’s largest birds.


A long way south of Tijuana and Parque Nacional Sierra San Pedro Mártir is Loreto. Located on the Gulf of California side of the peninsular, Loreto is a Mexican gem. Nestled between the mountains and the beautiful sea of Cortez, this historic town packs a punch. Combining old-worldly architecture with a spectacular setting, this is the place to explore the offshore Bahia de Loreto National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The national park covers five uninhabited islands and over 2,000 square kilometers of pristine marine ecosystems. Sea lions, manta rays, dolphins, and many more marine mammals populate the area. In the winter, whale watching is also hugely popular. Outside of Loreto, there are also some excellent day trips, including Mission San Francisco Javier de Vigge-Biaundo, a historic church from 1699.

A lighthouse on the malecon in Loreta
The spectacular malecon in Loreto with its beautiful white lighthouse

La Paz

It’s 220 miles and a 5-hour bus journey from Loreto to La Paz, the capital city of Baja California Sur. It’s probably fair to say La Paz is a diamond in the rough, with the trappings of a modern city accompanied by some wonderful historic buildings. While the city is not the most beautiful in Mexico, the waterfront malecón is enchanting, and the town serves as a center for some exceptional local attractions. Top amongst these is swimming with whale sharks, which is possible via local charter boats from October to February each year. Swimming with these massive creatures really is a bucket list-worthy experience. A day trip to the white sands of Balandra Beach is also highly recommended, as the beach ranks with the very best that Mexico has to offer.

Aerial view of Balandra Beach Mexico
The exquisite Balandra Beach close to La Paz in Baja California

Cabo San Lucas

The final leg of this epic trip takes you 100 miles from La Paz to the soft sands of Cabo San Lucas. It is a popular tourist resort with beautiful but busy beaches. However, if you’re looking for some luxury after a grueling trip, this is where you can find it. You can also find beauty in abundance, from the magnificent El Arco de Cabo San Lucas to the beaches at Chileno and Medano.

The arch of El Arco de Cabo San Lucas
El Arco de Cabo San Lucas - a beautiful arch set in turquoise waters

Continuing Further South?

If you’re considering going further south from Mexico into other Central American countries, check out our can you drive to Costa Rica blog post. For those considering heading even further south to South America, there’s some vital information on the practicalities of undertaking this trip. Find all the information in our can you drive to South America blog post.

Why not try some of our other guides?

We hope you’ve enjoyed our Vancouver to Cabo San Lucas trip guide. Why not try some of our other guides for North America or perhaps other road trips?

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